Outskirts of Jakarta, Indonesia – November 6, 0410 hours
Yusman knew he was early so he waited patiently in his car parked two hundred metres outside the refinery gates in Segarajaya – a province about 13 kilometres northeast of Jakarta. The order had been given and the operation that he had waited all these months for was finally about to get underway.
Soon he spotted the first tanker leaving the complex. The other six, all painted in the company’s trademark white and green colours, soon followed along obediently forming a small convoy through the deserted streets.
They turned to the east heading further away from the city. This was their scheduled route which would take them to their original destination in Surabaya, a town about 600 kilometres away. This routine journey made once a fortnight, was expected to take some eight hours because of the country’s speed restrictions on such heavy vehicles.
It would give him until noon at the latest to accomplish his task before someone would raise the alarm when the convoy failed to arrive at its destination. But Yusman knew that he would need only about half that time.
After travelling for about 15 minutes, the vehicles each loaded with 34,000 litres of petroleum, turned south and headed to a disused warehouse located on the outskirts of Jakarta.
Steel doors were shut and locked as the last tanker entered the old building. Yusman and his team were already there waiting eagerly as the drivers lined up their vehicles.
The men wasted no time in getting down to business. First, the vapour vent cover on top of each tanker was removed. Slowly and with great care, the men using a long PVC pipe began pouring in just over 200 kilogrammes of assorted heavy nails, screws, industrial nuts and steel ball bearings. These had been coated earlier in heavy oil to prevent them from rubbing together causing a spark. Soon they covered the base of each eight-metre tank filled with light petroleum. These metal objects would form the deadly shrapnel for the mobile bombs increasing their anti-personnel lethality.
Next, the men tackled the engine compartment placing a small canister filled mainly with potassium chlorate and several other chemicals. A small pull-action primer was inserted to initiate the device which was then encased in insulating foam to prevent overheating from the engine which could cause a premature detonation. The device was fastened to the engine block and a thin wire connected to the primer was threaded into the driver’s cabin. It would take just a simple tug on the wire to activate the device. The primer would then spark causing the chemicals inside to burn to produce a constant stream of black smoke.
Finally, the explosives were put in place.
A single kilogram block of RDX, a stable military-grade explosive, was attached to the underside hull of each tanker. Shaped into the letter V with a thick metal underplate, the explosive was then rigged to be detonated remotely using the microwave signal from a handphone. Because of its more complex design, the microwave triggers were built and tested several days earlier. All that the men had to do now was to insert the electric detonator into each explosive block.
The V shape of the charge would direct the force of the explosion upwards towards the body of the tanker blasting it apart and igniting its flammable contents.
The men rigging the vehicles had practised their jobs well and by 6:50am, all seven tankers were primed and ready. The two explosive experts who had supervised the work, examined each truck one final time making sure all was in order.
Meanwhile, Yusman gathered his drivers and their attendants for a final briefing. Each man wore a dark blue company jacket over his civilian shirt and a blue baseball cap pulled low. Yusman went over in detail the plans they had all heard many times before. Using a large map of the city, he pointed out to the drivers the alternate route each team could take to reach its primary target should it become necessary to deviate from the original plan.
Each team also had a secondary target. If the men felt they could not reach their primary objective in time perhaps because of heavy congestion, the team would then head to their alternate kill zone. The timing he stressed, was everything. They would not have far to travel but each tanker had to be in place at exactly 8:30am.
Traffic on the outskirts of Jakarta was already starting to build up as the morning rush hour approached. Still, the men waited patiently. As each team had a different destination, their start times were staggered accordingly to ensure that all seven vehicles were in position for a simultaneous attack. This too had been practised many times over the past two days so that each man knew exactly where he had to be at precisely the right time.
This operation was not expected to be a suicide mission and the men could reasonably expect to return safely but only if everything went exactly to plan.
Just as he ended his briefing, Yusman handed each attendant a grenade. These along with the RDX explosives had been stolen two months earlier from a military barracks in Banda Aceh on the western tip of Java. He warned the men that the grenades were only to be used as a last resort should the main explosives fail to detonate.
Yusman showed them exactly where the grenade should be placed under the most vulnerable part of the tanker if it came to that. He did not have to tell them that should the use of a grenade become necessary, given its short four-second fuse, the men would almost certainly be caught up in the resulting blast and survival would be near impossible.
With the briefing over and final prayers said, the teams mounted their respective vehicles to await the order to leave. Most were consumed with their individual thoughts about the carnage soon to be unleashed but a few seasoned hands seemed unperturbed by the real dangers they faced.
At 8:02am the first truck called Tanker One began rolling out of the warehouse. Over the next nine minutes, the remaining vehicles began their short one-way journey into history.
Yusman watched them go in a heady mix of excitement, apprehension and also a tinge of sadness. This would be his biggest and most complex operation to date – and also his last. For it to work perfectly, the teams needed to follow their instructions to the letter.
He checked his watch again. It was time for him to leave and head back to his safe house a six-minute drive away. From the balcony of this 10th storey apartment, he would be able to see his final mission live and in person.
Tanker One headed to Blok M, a business cum shopping centre located in Kebayoran Baru in South Jakarta. Built some 20 years earlier, the area was always packed with locals and tourists out for some bargain hunting. The narrow two-lane roads around the area, all one-way traffic, were frequently congested and today it was no different.
The driver expertly manoeuvred his cumbersome 10-wheeled vehicle through the chaotic traffic as the attendant checked his watch. At precisely 8:27am as they passed the front of Blok M, the driver veered sharply from the left lane to the right narrowly missing an elderly motorcyclist before mounting the curb and hitting a small tree. With the tanker stopped at an angle, the entire road was effectively blocked off bringing all traffic behind it to a grinding halt. As the vehicle mounted the curb, the attendant triggered the smoke canister in the engine compartment, causing a small but constant stream of black smoke to emerge from the engine bay.
A crowd of curious on-lookers soon gathered to get a better view of the apparent accident and the traffic build-up was almost instantaneous. Amidst the blaring horns from disgruntled motorists, both men alighted from their seemingly immobile truck. The attendant picked up his handphone making a show of calling for assistance. As they walked through the swelling crowd, they casually discarded their distinctive blue jackets and caps which helped them blend into the background.
Barely 60 seconds later, both men had disappeared into the crowd as the attendant punched in the activation number on his handphone. When they were 200 metres away and shielded by a large concrete wall, the attendant crouched down, checked his watch and hit the green call button.
The time was 8:30am – precisely.
No one could discern the double explosions as the first happened a fraction of a second before the following blast. The RDX tore through the hull of the tanker instantly setting aflame the 34,000 litres of petroleum. This was only about a third of the fuel carried by American Airlines Flight 11 – the first plane to hit New York’s World Trade Centre in the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. Still the effects were no less chilling.
The huge fireball fuelled by the petroleum reached over 300 metres into the sky as the pressure wave blew out windows up to half a kilometre away. The thick smoke shielded for a time, the utter devastation on the ground. Vehicles next to the tanker had also exploded and were left burning, leaving behind the charred and blackened remains of their occupants still strapped in their seats.
Further out from the immediate blast zone, scores of people, many of them onlookers, lay dead in an untidy heap of dismembered body parts burnt beyond recognition. Those fortunate enough to be further away from the immediate kill zone of Tanker One were hit by shrapnel blasted out from the exploding vehicle.
The effects on office workers, tourists and ordinary folk going about their daily business in this busy district, were no less horrific than being caught in a merciless hail of bullets. Some were decapitated instantly, their now lifeless bodies still moving forward a step or two before crumpling to the ground. Others were cruelly torn apart by the shrapnel which exited their bodies with still lethal force.
Large glass shards falling from the surrounding buildings also took out more innocent victims as the flaming petroleum flowing across roads and through drains, started a rolling series of building fires that would continue to burn well into the evening.
The intense fires coupled with the grid-locked roads, prevented ambulances and other emergency vehicles from reaching the victims still clinging to life. Those who were still conscious would hear the approaching sirens but help for them would never arrive in time.
Tanker Four was tasked with a more symbolic hit – the American Embassy. This fortified building was set well away from the busy boulevard it fronted.
As the vehicle neared the front of the embassy, the driver braced himself for the impact as he gunned his engine. The tanker lurched forward crashing into the rear of the van he was following. Immediately on contact, the attendant triggered the smoke device sending a cloud of black smoke billowing out from the engine.
Stopping by the roadside 70 metres away from the embassy’s guard post, the ‘accident’ had already triggered a security response. With two armed guards running to the scene, the attack team dismounted from the vehicle. The embassy’s security men with weapons drawn ensured that no one was hurt before escorting the driver and attendant back to the guard post.
A small crowd of about 20 people were lined up at another gate close by, waiting to enter this highly-protected building to apply for US visas. More security guards were arriving by the minute as the attendant, who had already keyed in the attack code, pressed the green call button on his handphone.
The time was 8:30am – precisely.
The resulting explosion mirrored the others that were taking place all over Jakarta this morning. This blast tossed several passing vehicles into the air and they came crashing down on the road which was already engulfed in flames.
Both team members, who were still well within the kill zone, knew that there was no way out for them. There was barely enough time for a silent prayer as a rain of deadly shrapnel tore through their bodies with ease. Five security guards and most of the crowd outside the embassy were also struck down, many fatally.
The embassy itself suffered no significant damage apart from some broken windows caused by the pressure wave from the explosion. Only four employees were injured by the flying glass but all would live to recount the horror of November 6.
In planning the hit, JI knew that the damage to the embassy would be light but still the message would be delivered loud and clear to the Americans that they were still in the crosshairs.
But it would be Tanker Seven that would deliver the most horrific example of pure terrorism to the Americans and the rest of the watching world.
The men of Tanker Seven pulled their vehicle over to the side of the street just before a road hump about 200 metres from the entrance to the Indonesia American School. It was far enough away so as not to arouse suspicion of the school guards and yet be close enough to their approaching targets. School was due to start at 8:45am and the buses loaded with the first and second grade students should be arriving any minute now.
The tanker driver made a show of opening the hood of the engine bay and fiddling with the cables. He checked his watch. It was 8:26am. Leaving his hazard lights on and the hood open, he and his partner began walking away. The latter had already keyed in the telephone number into his handphone. Now all that was left for them to do was wait.
Three minutes later, the two yellow school buses turned the corner and slowed down as they approached the road hump. They were driving just three metres apart now and the buses were right on schedule as they neared the tanker.
The attendant waited from his vantage point 300 metres away until both buses were aligned with the tanker. From his left, he heard the first sound of an explosion a few kilometres away. The attack had begun as he keyed the call button of his handphone.
The white flash and deafening blast caught the man by surprise and it took several seconds for him to regain his senses. Instinctively he checked his watch. It was 12 seconds after 8:30am and his job was done.
The blast ripped through both buses as they were tossed on their sides and sent spinning like giant tops across the road by the pressure wave. Burning oil soon engulfed these vehicles drowning out any final screams from those children trapped inside. There would be no survivors.
One press photographer who happened to be nearby would soon take a picture that the world would remember for years to come. Amidst the smoke and burning embers, the small blackened hand of a dead child – with the flesh charred almost to the bone, reached out from one window of the overturned bus as if pleading for help – an innocent, silent cry that the world failed to hear.